Monday, September 19, 2011

The Guides Do Lunch

Shelburne Museum Guide Alice Thomas
While winding down from summer camps and gearing up for school programs, we (Paige and Angela) thought we would check in with the guide staff. Museum guides, stationed in twenty-five of our thirty-nine buildings, field a range of visitor inquiries. We knew we’d find a few of them enjoying lunch in the “Staff Only” section of the Museum CafĂ©, and on a recent afternoon, we sat down with Bill, Beth, Alice, Ellie and Hilda for a lovely meal.

Though curious at our arrival, they continued to reach into their plastic bags and containers of sandwiches, fruits, and other treats. To spark a friendly conversation, we asked them, “Has anything neat happened so far today?”

The guides told us that there was an English family and a German couple on the grounds. Alice took this as an opportunity to share the time when a group from the Middle East visited the museum. They went up to her husband Gerald, also a guide, and he surprised them all with his fluent Arabic. Alice explained that she and Gerald spent three years at the American naval base in Tripoli, Libya during the 1970s. She recalled the beautiful city and the warm weather; but above all, she recalled the male attention she used to receive in the marketplace. “They used to pinch you. If they thought you were good looking you could count on a pinch.” We all let out a good laugh.

They spoke for a minute or two about guide classes. Guides supplement their own research with morning classes on topics ranging from the gardens on the grounds to social media and networking in the museum world. Beth Thorpe told us about a favorite class that taught historic fabric dyeing techniques.

Shelburne Museum Guide Ellie Peters
The conversation then shifted to a frequent topic: how to best engage museum visitors. Ellie Peters enjoys asking children visiting the Stencil House which room is missing. It only takes a short investigation before they return with an answer: the bathroom! Unfortunately we don’t have the original outhouse associated with the home. Beth told us that many visitors immediately like Kalkin House, a modern gallery made of metal, glass and concrete. “They walk in and get visions,” she explains. Ellie chimes in, “They want to live there!”

Hilda said she was spending the day in Webb Gallery introducing visitors to In Fashion, our exhibition of 19th century and contemporary designer fashions. Beth leaned over conspiratorially to share that the best place to begin the daily gallery talk was in the “Complete the Look” room, which displays bodices from our collection paired with imaginative contemporary skirt designs by students at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Shelburne Museum Guide Beth Thorpe
Then, like clockwork, the guides packed up their belongings and set off to return to their posts. Of course, they made sure to bid everyone a hearty goodbye and warm wishes for a happy afternoon.

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